Christine Brooke-Rose 1923-
Swiss-born English novelist, poet, critic, short story writer, essayist, and memoirist.
The following entry presents an overview of Brooke-Rose's career through 2003. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volume 40.
Brooke-Rose has earned an international reputation as a postmodern novelist whose fictions are highly influenced by poststructuralist literary theory. Though written primarily in English, her novels are closely associated with French literary theory, drawing comparisons to the mannerist novels of Iris Murdoch and the nouveau roman style of Alain Robbe-Grillet. Beginning with her fifth novel, Out (1964), however, Brooke-Rose developed her own distinctive and experimental prose style. Her subsequent narratives are highly self-conscious and anti-realist works, continually reinforcing the notion that fiction is ultimately about language and does not reflect reality. Brooke-Rose emphasizes these ideas through a range of verbal pyrotechnics, such as puns, wordplay, invented words, and the intermingling of multiple languages. She is also fascinated with scientific language, and her novels utilize scientific jargon as metaphors for various elements of human experience. Though by no means a popular or best-selling novelist, Brooke-Rose has become highly respected as a creative novelist-critic and an alternative to male-authored postmodern fictions.
Brooke-Rose was born in Geneva, Switzerland, on January 16, 1923. With her English father, whose last name was Rose, and Swiss-American mother, whose maiden name was Brooke, Brooke-Rose grew up in a household where three different languages were spoken. While French was Brooke-Rose's first language, the family also spoke English and German. Her parents separated in 1929, and her father later died in 1934. After the divorce, Brooke-Rose moved with her mother to Brussels, Belgium, where they lived with her maternal grandparents. In 1936 she moved with her mother to England. During World War II, Brooke-Rose worked on assessing intercepted enemy communications for the Allies. She was married in 1944, but the marriage lasted less than a year and was later annulled. After the war ended, Brooke-Rose attended Somerville College, Oxford University, earning a B.A. in English in 1949. In 1954 she earned a Ph.D. in Middle English from University College, London. While still a student, Brooke-Rose married Jerzy Peterkiewicz, a Polish writer and professor. The couple later divorced in 1975. During a period in 1956 when her husband was suffering from a near-fatal illness, Brooke-Rose began writing her first novel, The Languages of Love, which was published in 1957. From 1956 to 1968, she worked as a freelance journalist and literary reviewer in London, contributing to such publications as the New Statesman, the Observer, the Sunday Times, and the Times Literary Supplement. In 1962 Brooke-Rose suffered a long and serious illness and underwent kidney surgery, from which she emerged with a new perspective on her fiction writing. Out, the first of her experimental novels, was the product of this period of reflection and re-evaluation. She began teaching at the University of Paris in 1969 and, beginning in 1975, she served as a professor of English and American literature and literary theory. After retiring from teaching in 1988, Brooke-Rose settled in Provence, France. Her fictionalized memoir, Remake (1996), recounts her multi-national childhood, her experiences as a young woman living in London, and her later successes as a novelist and professor.
Brooke-Rose's early novels, such as The Languages of Love and The Sycamore Tree (1958), are social satires of romantic intrigue among intellectuals in London. Her third novel, The Dear Deceit (1960), is a somewhat experimental narrative in which a man traces the life of his deceased father backwards from death to birth. Out, a futuristic tale set in Africa, addresses issues of racial inequality. Taking place in the aftermath of a nuclear war, pale skin is now viewed as an indicator of radiation poisoning while dark skin connotes health. Subsequently, a social hierarchy develops in which dark-skinned people rule and light-skinned people have become the underclass. Out is narrated by a pale white protagonist, one of the so-called “colourless race,” who is unable to find work due to discrimination. The narrative of Out has been compared to Alain Robbe-Grillet's 1957 novel La Jalousie. Such (1965) concerns a psychologist named Larry—a reference to the biblical character Lazarus—who reflects on his life and career as it runs through his mind during a hallucinatory episode in the final three minutes before he dies. Larry works in an astrophysics lab, and astrophysics functions as the novel's central metaphor for human relationships. Other elements of the narrative serve as metaphors for conscious and unconscious states of mind. The protagonist of Between (1968) is a professional translator belonging to a team that travels throughout the world attending various international conferences on translation. Between is structured as two intersecting narratives. One narrative strand is expressed in the present tense in several different languages and describes the breakdown of the protagonist's marriage. The second narrative strand presents a series of love letters written in medieval French. Brooke-Rose does not use the verb “to be” anywhere in Between, having explained that it functions as an expression of the narrator's disoriented sense of personal identity. Thru (1975) is Brooke-Rose's most self-consciously narrated novel, exploring further the author's role of engaging the reader in games of language and meaning. The story centers around a university creative writing course in which the students collectively construct a narrative, thus giving the text no central unifying “consciousness.” Instead, Thru is comprised a series of fragmentary texts, such as student essays with handwritten changes superimposed on the typed text, musical notations, mathematical formulas, diagrams, and resumes, among others. Thru begins and ends with a view from the rear-view mirror of a car, exploring language and experience as a fragmentary, ever-changing, backward reflection.
Brooke-Rose gave the collective title “The Intercom Quartet” to her next four novels—Amalgamemnon (1984), Xorandor (1986), Verbivore (1990), and Textermination (1991). These novels are unified by Brooke-Rose's thematic exploration of the impact of information technology on science, literature, and humanity. Amalgamemnon is narrated through the consciousness and imagination of Mira Enketei, an insomniac woman who sits in bed reading Herodotus while her lover snores beside her. Mira makes use of various forms of wordplay and imagines herself in the role of the mythical Cassandra. Amalgamemnon explores the tensions between fact and imagination as well as probing the status of women in relation to traditional epistemological hierarchies. Additionally, Brooke-Rose avoids all use of present-tense verbs in Amalgamemnon. Xorandor and Verbivore cast a series of inanimate but sentient stones as the central characters. Xorandor is narrated entirely in the form of dialogue between a pair of twin “whiz kids,” Jip and Zab, and their computer. The twins discover a stone, which they name Xorandor, that feeds on radiation. Xorandor, a sort of naturally occurring computer chip, has the ability to absorb communication technologies, from computers to radio broadcasts, and to communicate with the twins through their computer. Xorandor leads the twins to believe that he is from Mars, but later reveals that he originated on Earth five thousand years ago. Xorandor has the ability to reproduce, and one of his offspring—due to a “syntax error”—takes control of a nuclear power plant and threatens to create a nuclear bomb. Xorandor explores the impact of communications technology on modes of narrative, as the children find that they do not understand the now-antiquated concept of storytelling. Verbivore includes characters from both Amalgamemnon and Xorandor and concerns a breakdown in technological communications systems that forces everyone to communicate in writing. Textermination is set at an annual conference in San Francisco, attended by fictional characters out of the pages of literary history. Characters from the works of Jane Austen, Gustave Flaubert, George Eliot, Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, and Salman Rushdie, among others, populate the novel as they gather to petition potential readers with the help of literary critics who “interpret” them for the masses.
Remake is a highly self-conscious fictionalized memoir in which Brooke-Rose explores the workings of memory and imagination in the formation of narrative. In this attempt to “remake” her life by retelling it, Brooke-Rose asserts that adaptations are never as compelling as the original. Critics have also referred to Remake as a meta-biography or anti-biography. Next (1998) focuses on the homeless population of London, featuring twenty-six narrators, each of whose names begin with a different letter of the alphabet. Written in a conversational mode, Next is notable for its diverse range of accents and dialects among London's ethnically diverse inhabitants. Omitting the verb “to have” from the novel, Brooke-Rose emphasizes the material deprivations of the homeless. Her next novel, Subscript (1999), explores the birth and development of human life and language from prehistory to the present. Brooke-Rose has also published several works of literary criticism, including A Grammar of Metaphor (1958), A Rhetoric of the Unreal (1981), Stories, Theories, and Things (1991), and Invisible Author (2002).
Brooke-Rose has been recognized as one of the few modern writers whose critical perspective successfully informs her fictional narratives. As Karen R. Lawrence has observed, Brooke-Rose's novels are “radical experiments in which theories inform fiction and yet fiction intervenes to dramatize theory's limitations.” Critics have commended Brooke-Rose for skillfully utilizing the precepts of poststructuralist theory to create narratives that playfully demonstrate the “fictionality of fiction” in a critique of realist notions of literature. Maria del Sapio Garbero has noted that, “[t]he problematic relationship between language and reality is nowhere posed more radically than in Christine Brooke-Rose's work.” Brooke-Rose has also been praised for engaging readers in extended games of wordplay as a means of deconstructing realist notions of the relationship between the reader and the text. Susan E. Hawkins has commented that Amalgamemnon “does what most innovative writing should do: it challenges the audience in terms of accustomed modes of perception, interpretation, and reading strategies—in short, challenges readerly ideology.” Feminist critics have celebrated Brooke-Rose as an innovative female novelist whose narratives offer an alternative to dominant male modes of postmodern fiction. Ellen G. Friedman has ranked Brooke-Rose among a handful of twentieth-century experimental women writers—including Dorothy Richardson, Virginia Woolf, and Gertrude Stein—whose novels “explode the fixed architecture of the master narrative.” However, most reviewers have agreed that Brooke-Rose's novels are challenging to readers, with some arguing that her works are needlessly dense and almost incoherent to readers unfamiliar with her frequent textual allusions. Such critics have complained that the effort required to understand Brooke-Rose's writings diminishes their impact on audiences.
Gold (poetry) 1955
The Languages of Love (novel) 1957
A Grammar of Metaphor (criticism) 1958
The Sycamore Tree (novel) 1958
The Dear Deceit (novel) 1960
The Middlemen: A Satire (novel) 1961
Out (novel) 1964
Such (novel) 1965
Between (novel) 1968
Go When You See the Green Man Walking (short stories) 1970
A ZBC of Ezra Pound (criticism) 1971
Thru (novel) 1975
A Structural Analysis of Pound's Usura Canto: Jakobson's Method Extended and Applied to Free Verse (criticism) 1976
A Rhetoric of the Unreal: Studies in Narrative and Structure, Especially of the Fantastic (criticism) 1981
Amalgamemnon (novel) 1984
*The Christine Brooke-Rose Omnibus: Four Novels (novels) 1986
Xorandor (novel) 1986
Verbivore (novel) 1990
Stories, Theories, and Things (essays) 1991
Textermination (novel) 1991
Interpretation and Overinterpretation [with Umberto Eco, Richard Rorty, and Jonathan Culler; edited by Stefan Collini] (essays and criticism) 1992
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SOURCE: Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith. “Ambiguity and Narrative Levels: Christine Brooke-Rose's Thru.” Poetics Today 3, no. 1 (winter 1982): 21-32.
[In the following essay, Rimmon-Kenan addresses the question of “Who is speaking?” in the narration of Brooke-Rose's Thru.]
Whoever you invented invented you too
—Thru, p. 53
Visual exercises such as Wittgenstein's famous “rabbit-duck” figure (1969: 194)1 or Escher's “white birds/black birds” interlacing (1972)2 have often been evoked in studies not distinguishing between ambiguity and other types of plurisignificance (e.g., Wright 1976: 506-508). Attempting to develop a more sharply focused definition, I have identified the same puzzle pictures with ambiguity alone, differentiating it from cognate phenomena on the basis of the logical operation involved (1977: xi-xi, 3-26). Ambiguity, according to my narrow definition, is the “conjunction” of exclusive disjuncts, whereas double and multiple meaning are based on the conjunction of compatible readings, irony on disjunction, allegory on equivalence, and indeterminacy on the absence of any necessary logical operator.3
In narrative, the exclusive disjuncts are what I call the “finalized hypotheses” (i.e., the hypotheses the reader has attained at the end of the...
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SOURCE: Brooke-Rose, Christine, Ellen G. Friedman, and Miriam Fuchs. “A Conversation with Christine Brooke-Rose.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 9, no. 3 (fall 1989): 80-91.
[In the following interview, originally conducted on December 29, 1987, Brooke-Rose discusses the difficulties faced by experimental women writers.]
[Friedman and Fuchs]: In your essay “Ill Iterations,” which you wrote for Breaking the Sequence: Women's Experimental Fiction,1 you mention the difficulties experimental writers face when they are male, but you say also that the differences are compounded when the experimental writer happens to be a female. Will you talk about those difficulties for the woman writer?
[Brooke-Rose]: Yes, although it took a long time to become aware of them. Once in Paris, quite a long time ago, Hélène Cixous range me up and asked me to write something about the difficulties I've had as a woman writer. Naively, I said, “Well, I haven't had any difficulties as a woman writer. I've had difficulties that any writer would have; can I write about that?” And she said, “Oh, no.” She wanted something feminist. I was a bit antifeminist in those days, in the early 1970s. I didn't consciously feel that I had had any difficulties. My later revision of that feeling came from genuine experience. As I look back over my career I...
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SOURCE: Caserio, Robert L. “Mobility and Masochism: Christine Brooke-Rose and J. G. Ballard.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 21, nos. 2-3 (winter-spring 1988): 292-310.
[In the following essay, Caserio compares Xorandor with J. G. Ballard's Crash in terms of their relation to the science fiction genre, narratology, and postmodernism.]
1. ON THE ROAD WITH HYPERCRITE LECTEUR
From Xorandor, the name of Christine Brooke-Rose's latest (1986) novel, we can derive xorandoric, an adjective describing postmodern fiction. For in A Rhetoric of the Unreal, Brooke-Rose says that postmodern fiction—surfiction, metafiction, the novel novel novel—is a wholly ambiguous or wholly indeterminate text, which is what xorandoric denotes. In such a text we find information gaps in both the story and the plot, gaps “prevented from being filled in by two mutually exclusive systems of gap-filling clues” (228). The structural rule for such mutually exclusive systems would combine the co-presence or coherence of items of information in a narrative with the same items' simultaneous disjunction or incoherence. Brooke-Rose finds instances of the rule in James's proto-postmodern The Turn of the Screw, in narratology, and in computer science. Shlomith Rimmon's narratological work, The Concept of Ambiguity: The Example of James, explores (in Brooke-Rose's...
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SOURCE: Friedman, Ellen G. “‘Utterly Other Discourse’: The Anitcanon of Experimental Women Writers from Dorothy Richardson to Christine Brooke-Rose.” Modern Fiction Studies 34, no. 3 (autumn 1988): 353-70.
[In the following essay, Friedman examines the narrative strategies of a variety of experimental women writers—including Dorothy Richardson, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, and Brooke-Rose—asserting that these authors utilize feminine aesthetics to subvert dominant patriarchal forms of conventional narrative. Friedman observes that, in Amalgamemnon, Brooke-Rose “offers a deconstruction of the legacy of patriarchal culture.”]
In pre-twentieth century women's fiction, the strains in the relationship between women and the dominant culture were represented through covert modes. The strategies of women writers included subtexts, minor characters, and patterns of imagery, which to various degrees undermined the traditional scripts for appropriate behavior in fiction and life that their surface plots and major characters seemed to confirm.1 Through her heroines, Jane Austen, for instance, maintains a “double consciousness”; as Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar observe, although Austen drives her heroines into a final “docility and restraint,” she allows them to uncover the “delights of assertion and rebellion” on the way. In fact, Austen slyly subverted prevailing...
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SOURCE: Martin, Richard. “‘Just Words on a Page’: The Novels of Christine Brooke-Rose.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 9, no. 3 (fall 1989): 110-23.
[In the following essay, Martin provides a brief overview of the narrative strategies in Brooke-Rose's novels, commenting that the two central concerns of the author's fiction are a fascination with language and “an insistence upon the unreality of fictional discourse.”]
Whenever I slide into a realistic scene, say a love scene or something like that, something happens later to destroy it, to show that these are just words on a page.1
Christine Brooke-Rose's first novel, The Languages of Love, opens with a discussion of “palatal diphthongisation in fourteenth century Kentish” during a doctoral oral examination; her most recently published tenth novel, Xorandor, concludes with an agreement by the narrators to delete the computer files containing their entire text. These moments are representative of two major concerns of Brooke-Rose's writing: a fascination with language, and an insistence upon the unreality of fictional discourse. The concern with language in action which she formulated at the outset of her writing career—“I'm interested in language as a process, not a thing or an essence”2—became the consistent keynote of her subsequent books,...
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SOURCE: Hawkins, Susan E. “Memory and Discourse: Fictionalizing the Present in Xorandor.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 9, no. 3 (fall 1989): 138-45.
[In the following essay, Hawkins discusses the complex relationship between fiction, memory, narrative, language, and discourse in Xorandor.]
The processes of remembering and fictionalizing share certain features. Both are revisionary, and both construct a past through selection, deletion, compilation of detail, characterization, sequence, and action. They also share similarities in more esoteric, less substantive ways. When we remember, we may or may not be in control of our editorial choices. Sometimes events from the past do not always take the same shapes; they segue into different contexts, reveal new sections of the memorial vault, shift into strangely unsettling spaces. Memories may provide escape or comfort or terror; they may be, at times, inescapable. Often, it seems, memory exists at a zero hour. We do not grow old or infirm there; instead we meet once again that person we loved so sweetly, so anguishingly at nineteen; we inhabit a perpetual moment. Memory destroys quotidian time, suspends chronology, constellates personal history.
As Zab, one of the fourteen-year-old twin narrators in Xorandor, says, “The human memory's so loopy, it doesn't have total recall but brings things out in packages, sort of...
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SOURCE: Brooke-Rose, Christine, and Nicolas Tredell. “Christine Brooke-Rose in Conversation.” PN Review 17, no. 1 (September-October 1990): 29-35.
[In the following interview, originally conducted on March 6, 1990, Brooke-Rose discusses her novels in terms of realism, modernism, and postmodernism.]
[Tredell]: Your latest novel, Verbivore, is a very inventive, very witty work, but it also seems to me to have a very sombre resonance. There's a strong sense of an ending, an apprehension of a fall, after an excess of noise, into a possibly terminal silence. How do you feel yourself about the book?
[Brooke-Rose]: Yes, I was trying to explore the possibility of our minds being completely altered by the media, and if the media suddenly collapse, which is what the book is about, can we actually go back to a premedia mentality? And we can't. Society was very structured and layered, but everyone knew where they were. This was not necessarily a good society, but there were all sorts of ways of communicating at different levels, and above all, people read. Perhaps only an élite, I'm not going to go into the sociology of it, but nowadays people read less and less, and they want easy books, and they're so formed by television. I saw this as a teacher. It was very difficult to get students to read even a short story, where I in my youth just read, that was it, that was the...
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SOURCE: Walters, Michael. “Intertexting with a Vital Function.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4555 (20 July 1990): 782.
[In the following review, Walters explores the thematic significance of the interruption and breakdown of communication in Verbivore.]
At the end of her last novel, Xorandor, to which Verbivore is a kind of sequel, Christine Brooke-Rose has her pubescent protagonists agree to “dump the whole thing”—that is, to erase all the material on disc and print-out that constituted a record of their adventures with the eponymous stone/computer. After the Manning twins have exchanged promises, the instruction “END XORANDOR” ends the book. Although concluded, however, the book of course survives, and, further, the well-intentioned treachery of Jip (John Ivor Paul), in not keeping to the bargain, is part of the drama of Verbivore, set more than two decades later. (The year is roughly 2020.)
Readers familiar with the earlier exploits of Jip and Zab (Isabel) will find rather less here of their effusive and verbally idiosyncratic interplay. The youthful inventiveness returns at moments—as Jip recalls his sister saying, “It's nice to retrograde with you”—but its fitfulness is appropriate both to an adulthood in which the whiz-kids have whizzed apart, and to a narrative much concerned with the interruption and breakdown of communication....
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SOURCE: Hawkins, Susan E. “Innovation/History/Politics: Reading Christine Brooke-Rose's Amalgamemnon.” Contemporary Literature 32, no. 1 (spring 1991): 58-74.
[In the following essay, Hawkins asserts that Amalgamemnon confronts dominant male postmodern literary discourse through Brooke-Rose's innovative strategies of semantic play, multiple discursive modes, and displaced point-of-view.]
Beginning with Out in 1964, followed by Such in 1966 and Between in 1968, Christine Brooke-Rose moved very quickly from her own versions of the French New Novel to patently radical experiments in metafiction. And even though she appeared to have “arrived” with the publication of Thru in 1975—she was the subject of one of Contemporary Literature's quarterly interviews in 1976—this “arrival” has proved more apparent than actual. As Morton P. Levitt comments, Brooke-Rose “points the way to what might have proved a fruitful path for English fiction in the period following World War II. Instead, her career as critic and novelist demonstrates further the sad insularity of postmodernist English literary culture” (124). Written just a few years ago, Levitt's remarks, until recently, were quite true. Brooke-Rose's name, if known, tended to be associated with criticism and theory, not fiction. This obscurity resulted, in part, from the lack of an experimental...
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SOURCE: Brooke-Rose, Christine, and Maria del Sapio Garbero. “A Conversation with Christine Brooke-Rose.” In British Postmodern Fiction, edited by Theo D'haen and Hans Bertens, pp. 101-20. Atlanta, Ga.: Rodopi, 1993.
[In the following interview, originally conducted on August 21, 1991, Brooke-Rose discusses her novels in terms of feminism, postmodernism, literary theory, and experimental women's writing.]
[Sapio Garbero]: You have been regarded as a “European intellectual”, associated more with French and with American critical thought and writing than with English literary culture. Is that still the case? Or do you think that the context of the English novel is changing in a way that may make you feel more at home?
[Brooke-Rose]: When I first started experimenting with the novel I was very interested in everything that was happening in France, and later in America with postmodernism. But things have changed in England. I used to feel and be made to feel completely out, a mad Francophile, writing the nouveau roman in English and so forth. It wasn't true. I think the English have in fact now absorbed what was going on in France, they've become more open and less provincial. There are a lot of very interesting writers and critics in England. Also I've mellowed a bit myself, I'm less intransigent, so I feel more at home now in the English intellectual world....
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SOURCE: Sage, Lorna. “In Which All Have a Good Time.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4622 (1 November 1991): 20.
[In the following review, Sage argues that Textermination is ultimately a critique of realist notions of the reader, calling the central theme of the novel “at once witty and despairing.”]
The imaginative conceit on which Christine Brooke-Rose's new novel [Textermination] is based is at once witty and despairing. Characters from all the novels and stories you've ever read—and quite a few you haven't—gather in the San Francisco Hilton for the annual convention where they pray for Being, that they may live on for ever in the canon. Emma Woodhouse gets into the carriage with Mr Elton one more time, and finds herself whisked off in a quite different direction, along with an elderly stranger speaking German, who is himself pursued by a large Lotte (“Wo ist Goethe?”), in a dress far too young for her, out of Thomas Mann. There is also another Emma whose skirts take up an inordinate amount of room, and who (what mortification!) languishes suggestively all over the place. Others climb into other vehicles: all the diligences, landaus, cabriolets and coaches that trundled the characters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to their destinies and destinations converge now for the charter flight to Atlantic City, and thence to the West Coast. They are going to be...
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SOURCE: Bradbury, Malcolm. “The Bridgeable Gap.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4633 (17 January 1992): 7-9.
[In the following review, Bradbury comments that Interpretation and Overinterpretation—which collects criticism from Umberto Eco, Brooke-Rose, Richard Rorty, and Jonathan Culler—presents a compelling perspective on the intersection of the critic and the novelist within the context of postmodern theory.]
In the past few years, British universities, polytechnics, schools and even kindergartens have seen a massive growth occur in a subject that not too long ago was regarded as a suspect American import, like the hamburger—a vulgar hybrid which, as everyone once knew, no sensible person would ever eat. It is called Creative Writing, and, along with other latter-day or postmodern activities like Media Studies and Women's Studies, has turned into one of the subjects of the season. Besides achieving academic recognition, it has spread freely through the broader hinterland. Farmhouse seminars, weekend courses, evening writing workshops, postal courses and handy mercantile handbooks encourage all of us to develop the obscure quality known as creativity or stimulate the belief that we can all soon be running off with the Booker Prize, or writing scripts for Casualty.
For the British development of this state of affairs, I suppose I must myself acknowledge a small...
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SOURCE: Seed, David. Review of Stories, Theories, and Things and Textermination, by Christine Brooke-Rose. Review of Contemporary Fiction 12, no. 1 (spring 1992): 142-44.
[In the following review, Seed evaluates Brooke-Rose's overriding concern with the intersection of literature and contemporary literary theory in Stories, Theories, and Things and Textermination.]
Christine Brooke-Rose's latest collection of essays [Stories, Theories, and Things] covers a very broad range of topics mostly connected through the notion of story. Unlike her earlier study A Rhetoric of the Unreal (1981) this volume carries a deliberately miscellaneous-sounding title which in effect gives the author priority over any single theoretical topic. This is important because it relates to one of Brooke-Rose's most engaging characteristics as a critic. Although she has taught for twenty years in the very citadel of Gallic theory, Paris VIII, she has avoided many of the pitfalls of continental theorists such as dogmatic generalization and a tendency toward abstraction. The essays gathered here are based on a pair of tacit premises which would run something like this: it is essential to possess an analytical formal awareness of literature, but it is equally essential to test out that awareness on specific works. Stories, Theories, and Things could thus be seen as structured on a series of...
(The entire section is 1213 words.)
SOURCE: Hansom, Paul. “Fictional Theories and Theoretical Fictions.” Contemporary Literature 34, no. 4 (winter 1993): 797-802.
[In the following review, Hansom observes that Brooke-Rose's essays in Stories, Theories, and Things primarily address the intersection of literary theory and the fictionalizing process.]
Lars Ole Sauerberg's Fact into Fiction: Documentary Realism in the Contemporary Novel is an interesting investigation of the realist documentary mode that also explores the relationship between textual ontology and the reliance on outer references from the “real” world. Sauerberg's basic claim is that despite the tendencies toward fragmentary narrative and literary devices (vaguely compounded as the postmodern), the realist mode of representation still prevails. Indeed, it must prevail, considering that we share much the same obsession with the ontological condition as our nineteenth-century cousins. The continuation of bourgeois values into the twentieth century has meant that literary investigation and experimentation, indeed all forms of representation, have followed the basic patterns of realistic convention. The key to the continuation of literary realism (whether specifically documentary or not) rests with the necessity of language to represent and the obvious limitations that lie within this ground of representation. All fiction works on the level of representation,...
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SOURCE: Alexander, Flora. Review of Stories, Theories, and Things, by Christine Brooke-Rose. Review of English Studies 44, no. 174 (May 1993): 301-03.
[In the following review, Alexander offers a positive assessment of Stories, Theories, and Things, calling the collection intelligent, clear-sighted, and “a rich store of wisdom.”]
It is curious that the teaching of courses and the writing of books on women's writing can provoke hostile reactions, whereas similar activities dealing with, for example, Irish writing, or Canadian literature, do not. The basis for the disapproval of women's writing as a subject, when it is not simple misogyny, is often a sincerely held belief that women's experience is not sufficiently distinct from that of men to make women's writing an appropriate object of attention. Yet society does treat women differently from men, and for most women, at least until very recently, being female has imposed some degree of limitation on their activities. Kate Fullbrook's Free Women and Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik's Landscapes of Desire both examine writing that comes out of the different experience of women, focusing on what has become the new female canon of twentieth-century fiction. In each case the results are illuminating. The authors, while aware of developments in feminist critical theory, are judicious in their use of it. They are wary of the...
(The entire section is 1071 words.)
SOURCE: Sapio Garbero, Maria del. “The Fictionality of Fiction: Christine Brooke-Rose's Sense of Absence.” In British Postmodern Fiction, edited by Theo D'haen and Hans Bertens, pp. 89-99. Atlanta, Ga.: Rodopi, 1993.
[In the following essay, Sapio Garbero discusses the concept of absence in Brooke-Rose's novels in terms of the problematic relationship between text and reality. Sapio Garbero asserts that Brooke-Rose utilizes the central theme of absence in her novels in an “anti-metaphysical quest” to critique dominant notions of identity and male-centered language.]
[Thru] is a text that is really constructing itself and then destroying itself as it goes along. Well, a lot of people are writing fiction about the writing of fiction, but this is not about the writing of fiction (except that it's about the construction of a text, if you like), it's about the fictionality of fiction: the fact that these characters are just letters on a page.1
The distinction posed by Christine Brooke-Rose between novels on “the writing of fiction” and novels on “the fictionality of fiction” is important. It calls attention not just to the activity of writing as a rediscovered authorial presence in postmodernist texts, but also to absence as something which, in her own novels, overtly sustains the relationship, both playful and...
(The entire section is 3896 words.)
SOURCE: Connor, Steven. Review of Stories, Theories, and Things, by Christine Brooke-Rose. Modern Language Review 89, no. 2 (April 1994): 427-28.
[In the following review of Stories, Theories, and Things, Connor argues that the volume's strongest essays are those in which Brooke-Rose addresses issues of gender and feminism in literature.]
The relationship of literary writers to the institutions of criticism has always been a tense one, even (and perhaps especially) at times such as ours when there is considerable professional traffic between the two realms. The explosion of ‘theory’ in literary studies over the last couple of decades, characterized as it has been by an increased hawkishness among some theorists with regard to the authority of the author, has tended to heighten this sense of jittery stand-off. Christine Brooke-Rose is an example of how to be an exception to this rule, for she has commuted, if not exactly with ease, then certainly with energy, between her two intellectual commitments as critic and creative writer. This latest book [Stories, Theories, and Things] is both more affluently various and more genially disjointed than previous ones, and marks a contrast in particular with her exact and exacting study of the poetics of fantasy narrative in The Rhetoric of the Unreal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981). The essays collected in this generous...
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SOURCE: Josipovici, Gabriel. “World within Word.” New Statesman and Society 9, no. 393 (8 March 1996): 41-2.
[In the following review, Josipovici posits that Brooke-Rose's central theme in her memoir Remake is the impossibility of representing one's life in the form of a story.]
No writer who has any sense of tradition can help but be more self-conscious today. They will be more aware of fiction as a process of making rather than story-telling, of the falsity of the notion of the self as a unified whole, and less willing than 19th-century predecessors to draw on the life for the substance of the work. In some writers, however, this has left a yearning for a space where the past could be examined and, if possible, come to terms with. Thus Vladimir Nabokov, despite his ironic dismissals of Freud, produced the memoir Speak, Memory. Thus Nathalie Sarraute and Alain Robbe-Grillet, two of the purest “makers” of the past half-century, have in recent years both published autobiographies.
Of course, none of these is a conventional work. Each shows us a highly intelligent and sophisticated writer bringing to the stuff of memory all the skills developed in a lifetime of writing fiction—not trying to be clever but, like Proust, profoundly aware of the intermittances of memory. Now Christine Brooke-Rose, the author of many challenging and innovative novels, has joined that...
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SOURCE: Sage, Lorna. “Winter Facts.” London Review of Books 18, no. 7 (4 April 1996): 3-4.
[In the following review, Sage describes Remake as an anti-autobiography that addresses the ultimately unanswerable question: “What is an author?”]
Christine Brooke-Rose's story of how this new book came to be is that she set out to write about her life, and instead produced a kind of antibiography. It's described in the jacket's blurb by Carcanet as ‘an autobiographical novel with a difference’ which ‘uses life material to compose a third-person fiction’. Inside the covers we're told with confessional baldness that ‘the old lady's publisher has asked for an autobiography. But the resistance is huge. The absorbing present creates interference, as well as the old lady's lifelong prejudice against biographical criticism, called laundry-lists by Pound. Only the text matters, if the text survives at all.’ But then, isn't life always text for a Post-Structuralist? And then again, treating the facts as fiction doesn't seem exactly a major departure if your fiction is of the pared-down, see-through, new-novelish kind. Whichever way you look at it, Christine Brooke-Rose is on home ground in Remake: making it over is second nature to her.
She does have a serious quarrel with most kinds of life-writing, of course, but that is a matter of genre. Which genre is such a...
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SOURCE: Walters, Michael. “A Beautiful Algebra of a Life.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4857 (3 May 1996): 22.
[In the following review, Walters describes Remake as “at once a kind of meta-autobiography, a meditation on memory … and a narrative of formal scrupulousness and lyrical grace.”]
The grammar of autobiography can unsettle its author; scarcely four pages into La vie de Henry Brulard, the multi-pseudonymous Stendhal was deploring “cette effroyable quantité de Je et Moi”. Like Stendhal, Christine Brooke-Rose faces the problem of “self-confrontation” early on. “The confronter is a speek in time compared to the army of confrontable selves”, declares the narrator of Remake, alert to the faulty reconnaissance of pronouns, whose “substitution” and “simulation” misrepresent the variable memory. Brooke-Rose's autobiographical novel eschews such duplicitous aid almost entirely, allowing the pronoun to shape only one chapter, a “diary” incorporating the last illness and death of the narrator's mother. For the greater part, a third-person old lady reflects on retirement in Provence and a recent return visit to England, and voices a present-tense narrative that takes Tess Blair-Hayley—her younger self—from her Anglo-Swiss-American genealogy, via birth, bilingual upbringing, school and war-work, to marriage, writing, teaching, separation and middle...
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SOURCE: Lawrence, Karen R. “Saving the Text: Cultural Crisis in Textermination and Masterpiece Theatre.” Narrative 5, no. 1 (January 1997): 108-16.
[In the following essay, Lawrence examines the parallels between Textermination and the dramatic performance Masterpiece Theatre: An Academic Melodrama, written by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. Describing both as examples of women's metafiction, Lawrence compares the narrative strategies of the two works, concluding that Textermination acts as a more effective piece of cultural critique.]
In an essay entitled “Where Do We Go from Here?” Christine Brooke-Rose borrows a definition of “metafiction” from Mas'ud Zavarzadeh's The Mythopoeic Reality—The Postwar American Nonfiction Novel (1976): metafiction, she quotes, is “‘ultimately a narrational metatheorem whose subject matter is fictional systems themselves [… It] exults over its own fictitiousness,’ and its main counter-techniques are flat characterization, contrived plots, antilinear sequences of events, all fore-grounded as part of an extravagant overtotalization, a parody of interpretation which shows up the multiplicity of the real and the nâiveté of trying ‘to reach a total synthesis of life within narrative’” (161-62). By this definition, both Brooke-Rose's own latest novel, Textermination (1991), and Gilbert and Gubar's...
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SOURCE: Lawrence, Karen R. “Dialogizing Theory in Brooke-Rose's Thru.” Western Humanities Review 50-51 (winter-spring 1997): 352-58.
[In the following essay, Lawrence discusses the intersection of fiction and literary theory in Thru.]
The work of Christine Brooke-Rose, both novelist and narrative theorist, provides one of the most interesting cases of the imbrication of theory and fiction in contemporary writing. Her novels are radical experiments in which theories inform fiction and yet fiction intervenes to dramatize theory's limitations. Thru (1975), her most self-consciously theoretical novel, written during the heyday of the “theory boom” in French universities (and a time when she herself taught at the experimental university at Vincennes), both thematizes and historicizes theory debates. In it, theory is dialogized, that is, theories are made to speak to one another, revealing their blindnesses and emotional investments like characters in a more conventional novel. In Thru, Brooke-Rose tests the limits of theory by revealing what it fails to account for.
Brooke-Rose has said that Thru is a “narrative about narrativity” (Stories, Theories, and Things, 8). Two of its possible authors (“characters” in the text) are Armel Santores, a teacher of contemporary theory, and Larissa Toren, an author who is his anagrammatic double and...
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SOURCE: Sage, Lorna. “Laif-Lahk.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4977 (21 August 1998): 21.
[In the following review, Sage examines the themes of isolation and alienation in Next, calling the novel a “moving book, despite its dryness and deliberation.”]
Christine Brooke-Rose's new novel [Next] is set in London, and wanders the streets with the unemployed and the homeless, who pass on the burden of telling the story to one another like a baton in some shambling relay race. It is a very realist setting for a notoriously anti-realist writer—Beckett meets Bleak House—but, on reflection, there is an impeccable logic in Brooke-Rose's identification with her derelicts. These rough sleepers and monologuists, like the New Novelists of the 1950s and 60s, have lost the plot and the conviction of having characters. And they are no longer the representative outsiders, but part of a contemporary social map that is so big and bitty that it has no real outside.
Experimental writing, to spell out a rueful analogy, is no longer the Other, any more than the poor. Isn't everyone a bit tricky these days, a bit insecure, a bit playful, a bit between? “No lumpen proles only lumpen bourgeoisie.” All of which means that a writer like Christine Brooke-Rose is marginalized in a new way—there is something literal and intransigent and unfashionable about her insistence that...
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SOURCE: McHale, Brian. Review of Next, by Christine Brooke-Rose. Review of Contemporary Fiction 19, no. 2 (summer 1999): 127-28.
[In the following review, McHale asserts that the greatest strength of Next lies in the accuracy and range of the London dialects employed in the monologues that make up the narrative.]
Having apparently said farewell to literature in Textermination (1991) and written her memoirs in Remake (1996), Brooke-Rose surprises us with a new novel as strong as anything she has ever written. Here [in Next] she largely leaves behind the mediascape of her “Intercom Quartet” of the eighties and early nineties and ventures out into the streets to imagine the inner lives and outer wanderings of London's homeless. It's hard to picture Brooke-Rose sleeping rough at seventy-five years old or even interviewing those who do, but however she conducted her research, the result is as plausible and freshly observed as if firsthand.
This being a Brooke-Rose novel, there are structural secrets, some of which are revealed by the jacket copy; for instance, there are twenty-six characters, each bearing a name beginning with a different letter of the alphabet, the ten homeless characters spelling out among them the ten letters of the top row of the keyboard (QWERTYUIOP). This time around, however, the Oulipian cryptograms and procedures seem less...
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SOURCE: Quinn, Paul. “A Tale of the Tribe.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5036 (8 October 1999): 24.
[In the following review, Quinn describes Brooke-Rose's Subscript as “her strangest and … most strangely human work so far.”]
Christine Brooke-Rose's career has been much concerned with codes. As her memoir Remake (1996) reveals, she was a trilingual child negotiating languages and their translation, a state she acknowledged in the title of her early novel, Between (1968), which concerns a translator. Brooke-Rose was a wartime code-breaker at Bletchley Park; she spent twenty years as a professor at the University of Paris, immersed in structuralist poetics, producing unflinchingly rigorous critical works which codified texts from Ezra Pound to Kurt Vonnegut. Most visibly (if that is the right word for a writer who remains a cherished secret among British writers), she has striven in her fictions painstakingly and wittily to analyse and unpick some of the dominant discourses of our day—from astronomy in Such (1966) to computurese in Xorandor (1986) to the jargons of professionalized literary study in Textermination (1991) and passim. In her new fiction, Subscript, she moves from codes to “the code”, our own genetic history.
In an age when most metanarratives (or “meganarratives”, as someone calls them in her...
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SOURCE: Powers, Elizabeth. Review of Subscript, by Christine Brooke-Rose. World Literature Today 74, no. 3 (summer 2000): 592.
[In the following review, Powers evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Subscript, noting that the work functions as “an impressive addition to Brooke-Rose's challenging oeuvre.”]
It is always wise to have a look at the jacket blurb before climbing into a novel by Christine Brooke-Rose (b. 1926). Though this newest work by the prolific creator of experimental fiction has a linear narration, so to speak, a reader may wonder where it is heading. In Brooke-Rose's The Dear Deceit (1960), the narration went backward, from protagonist's funeral to early life. Subscript works forward, from incipient human life about 4,500 million years ago, as a cell fought its way to formation and unity out of a chemical reaction, to the likewise incipient attempts at agriculture fifty thousand short years ago. Got that?
Actually, this may be Brooke-Rose's most engaging work, despite its un-Aristotelian time scale. Every stage of development is accompanied by what can only be called an esthetic or a spiritual gain. Even in the initial membrane, efficiency reigns, but also ethics: despite “grumble grumble” about replication, despite protests (“Why change?”), the unit works together, to mutual advantage. The new cell doesn't sink into...
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SOURCE: Quinn, Paul. “To Be, Or To Be Revenged?” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5182 (26 July 2002): 6-7.
[In the following review, Quinn lauds the selection of essays presented in Invisible Author and notes that the collection serves as a valuable resource for long-time champions of Brooke-Rose's novels.]
Christine Brooke-Rose claims there is something of a taboo against writers publishing accounts of their own work, on contemplating their own novels, as it were. When the work is especially ingenious or structurally complex, however, some have felt an understandable compulsion to parse their prose. Raymond Roussel, for example, couldn't resist a final word on the elaborate, punning procedures that generated his texts; and final word it was: How I Wrote Certain of My Books was only published posthumously. Umberto Eco produced some magisterial Reflections on “The Name of the Rose” under the clamouring pressure of an international readership, citing self-scrutinizing precedents like Poe's “Philosophy of Composition”, in which, crucially, the poet tells us how he wrote “The Raven”, not how we should read it. Brooke-Rose's Invisible Author is a highly distinctive contribution to this reflective tendency. Like Roussel's pamphlet, this volume delivers a final word, in this case a formal valediction; too frail to write another novel, the septuagenarian writer has...
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SOURCE: Murphy, Richard J. Review of Invisible Author: Last Essays, by Christine Brooke-Rose. Review of Contemporary Fiction 23, no. 1 (spring 2003): 163-64.
[In the following review, Murphy asserts that Brooke-Rose's Invisible Author demonstrates “the shrewdly acute intelligence and sensitive assiduity of a longtime innovator.”]
Brooke-Rose takes her title [Invisible Author] from her experience as a writer; while she has a small group of faithful readers, she reflects on the unhappy idea that nobody seems to have noticed the self-imposed constraints within which she has attempted to work, e.g., the elimination of the verb to be in Between. This book consists of six previously published sections and three added chapters, a structured self-analysis. In it we meet the shrewdly acute intelligence and sensitive assiduity of a longtime innovator. She gives a brief history of narrative criticism, unveils the composing mind of an ingenious writer, and moves the critic's attention away from the “story” to the devices, especially linguistic, that keep narrative alive. We might associate her with Roussel or Oulipo writers (Perec) as she analyzes the challenges and sense of verbal play that generate her fiction. Immersed in structuralism and theory, she applies the same incisiveness to critical problems as she has to those of narrative. The core of the work details her...
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Barrett, David V. “The Breakdown of All Communication.” New Scientist 126, no. 1711 (7 April 1990): 59.
Barrett describes Verbivore as impenetrable and unrewarding, concluding that it ultimately fails as a novel.
Birch, Sarah. Christine Brooke-Rose and Contemporary Fiction, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994, 253 p.
Birch offers a critical examination of Brooke-Rose's career, identifying three distinct phases in the author's literary development.
Disch, Thomas M. “Rock of Phages.” New York Times Book Review (3 August 1986): 10.
Disch discusses Brooke-Rose's unique narrative style in Xorandor.
Friedman, Ellen J., and Richard Martin, editors. Utterly Other Discourse: The Texts of Christine Brooke-Rose, Normal, Ill.: Dalkey Archive Press, 1995, 232 p.
Friedman and Martin present a selection of critical essays examining Brooke-Rose's oeuvre.
Morton, Brian. Review of Verbivore, by Christine Brooke-Rose. Times Educational Supplement, no. 3844 (2 March 1990): 33.
Morton evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Verbivore.
Additional coverage of Brooke-Rose's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: British Writers...
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